Moving to Berlin from the UK
Imagine a city brimming with diversity where tolerance is the golden rule. Imagine a city with so much visible history that it feels like the world’s largest open air museum. Imagine a city where the arts and culture flourish, attracting musicians, performers and artists from all over the world.
Imagine a city where there’s a welcoming smile in every establishment and where the bars and clubs stay open till dawn. Now imagine a city where the rents are affordable, the infrastructure almost flawless and employment opportunities are plentiful. Imagine too a city where eating out won’t cost you an arm and a leg.
Berlin is Germany’s largest metropolis and a state in its own right within the Federal Republic. Sitting on one of the key trading routes between east and west, Berlin has been part of many kingdoms, been ravaged in many wars, been fought over countless times, split in two and reunited. Remnants of this chequered history can be found everywhere in Berlin - from the Charlottenburg Palace to Checkpoint Charlie.
It’s unclear whether Berliners are racing away from this history or running to embrace the future but any new resident of Berlin is bound to find themselves swept up in a relentless energy that, if indulged fully, can leave you sleep deprived and caffeine-dependent.
Thinking of moving to Berlin?
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Moving to Berlin from the UK
As an EU citizen you’ll have no trouble settling and working in Berlin.The city-state is divided into twelve districts, none of which will take you more than 30km from the city centre. The first port of call, from an official perspective, will be your district’s residents’ office or Bürgeramt where you can register your residency, get an income tax card and find any other information you need regarding your status as a foreign worker.
Shipping your belongings from London to Berlin is relatively inexpensive and is often more cost-effective than buying new again.
The city has a large population of immigrants - Turkish, Polish, Serbian, Italian and Russian born residents are present in large numbers - and while German is the official language, English is also used a lingua franca and most German natives speak it. Learning German should be fairly straightforward with hundreds of language courses on offer throughout Berlin. The state also offers integration courses for new foreign residents but as a citizen from a culturally very similar country you probably won’t feel the need to enrol.
Public transport is highly effective in Berlin - there is a subway as well as excellent bus and rail services. Cycling is also very popular with lots of provision in street planning for bikes. Owning a car then is really not necessary.
Comparing Berlin vs London
Those moving from the UK capital to Berlin will find that their pockets suddenly become much deeper - the cost of rent, consumer goods, groceries and alcohol are all substantially cheaper than in the UK. In addition, eating out at restaurants is about 30% cheaper than in London and property considerably more affordable.
Healthcare in Berlin is of a similar standard to that in the UK but there is less crime, less pollution and less time spent on crowded tubes and buses.
Berlin has a very similar climate to London, with almost identical rainfall and sunshine hours, though can see colder spells midwinter.
Culturally, Berlin is a feast and the city on the Spree easily goes blow for blow with the city on the Thames. The architecture spans a period from the medieval through baroque and neo-classical to modern skyscraper. Museum Island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and features five of the state museums. In addition the Jewish Museum, the Stasi Museum, Checkpoint Charlie, The Bauhaus Archive and the Uhse Erotic Museum all offer different windows onto Berlin’s dramatic history.
Berlin is also a mecca for the performing arts (there are over 50 theatres), nightlife (the Panorama Bar opens its shades at daybreak so revellers can greet the new day in full swing) and cuisine (currywurst anyone?) which can leave London looking conservative in comparison.
Property in Berlin
Lagging behind the rest of Europe by a decade or more, German property is now entering a boom that seems set to run for some time. Berlin, which has traditionally had the lowest prices, is seeing the sharpest rises - nearly 40% on the median property price since 2009. If you’re going to buy in Berlin, the sooner the better.
Median prices for apartments in Berlin are currently about €2,500 (£2,125) per square meter which is still considerably cheaper than in most major European cities. A luxury three bedroom apartment in the centre of Berlin (Mitte) will cost in the region of €950,000 (£807,500).
A three bedroom apartment in a 19th century townhouse in Kreuzberg currently goes for around €360,000 (£306,000). A 3 bedroom flat in Prenzlauer Berg will cost closer to €120,000 (£102,000).
Stamp duty, notary, taxes and land title registration normally come to around 6% of the purchase price in Berlin.
Renting in Berlin is still very affordable but prices are going up - you can currently rent a one bedroom apartment in the city centre for about €650 (£595) per month.
- Family Friendly: Prenzlauer Berg lies at a walkable distance from the centre, has plenty of parks and playgrounds and is good for grocery shopping.
- Hip and Trendy: Kreuzberg was once home to the city’s poor but is now a bustling hive of students and counterculture hangouts like Görlitzer Park.
- Upmarket: Grunewald, near Charlottenburg, was a forested bastion of the Berlin upper class in the 19th century.
- Up and Coming: Neukölln, to the south east of the CBD, is slowly being colonised by the city’s middle class and arty types.
Schools and Education in Berlin
There are nearly 900 schools in Berlin - which fully funds public education - made up of six years of primary school before students progress to either a Sekundarschule (comprehensive) or a Gymnasium (college preparatory school). In addition, students in Berlin can opt for a special bilingual programme at participating schools where they are taught in both German and another foreign language.
Parents are free to apply to any school for a place for their child. The best schools are therefore much oversubscribed and sometimes have to resort to lottery to allot places.
People moving to Berlin with older children who don’t speak German and would find it difficult to integrate into the public school system are likely to want to find an international or bilingual private school. These are common in Berlin but are also heavily subscribed so it’s best to apply early.
Private school fees of around €13,000 (£11,050) per year are attached to schools like International School Villa Amalienhoff or the Berlin International School.
Public bilingual schools offer an alternative with the Nelson Mandela School and JFK School highly regarded by expats.
Berlin has four universities - among which Humboldt Universität zu Berlin is ranked in the Times top 100 - and 27 colleges.